It takes a while for a new head coaching staff’s systems to get going. Everyone remembers last year, and the terrible struggles before Harsin fired himself as offensive coordinator and play calling got handed over to Drinkwitz. But I thought it would be interesting to compare Blake Anderson’s 3rd game (Miami) to Hugh Freeze’s 3rd game (Virginia Tech) and Gus Malzahn’s 3rd game (Nebraska). All three games were on the road against a traditional power with more talent and depth than the Red Wolves. And all three games were the 3rd game for new A-State defensive coordinators – Wommack, Thompson, and Cauthen.
The jury is still out on how good Miami is, and whether they will compare unfavorably to 2011 Virginia Tech or 2012 Nebraska, but Miami could be a top 25 team by the end of the year. VT finished 21st in 2011 and Nebraska finished 25th in 2012.
Miami was a frustrating game to watch, but putting it into perspective reveals that we’ve been here before. Except we performed better against Miami than the Ryan Aplin led Red Wolves did against VT or Nebraska – we were actually in the game last weekend after recovering the onside kick to start the 2nd half, despite having missed two field goals and having given up big TD play after big TD play in the first half. A-State’s kids didn’t quit – they kept coming.
Walt Bell and Fredi Knighten moved the ball better than Aplin did in either of his 3rd games, earning more first downs and more total yards. Perhaps that was due in part to and increased number of possessions that resulted from the defense giving up quick strike scores, but 24 first downs against a big, fast Miami defense without your all-conference running back is a promising performance. While the turnovers were technically the same in all 3 games, the interception in the Miami game was thrown by the punter, so that is another indication that the 2014 offense stacks up comparatively well with 2011 and 2012 – which are considered two of the best offenses in the history of the Arkansas State football program. Those teams got significantly better as the season progressed. Expect more of the same this year, as Walt Bell’s crew will start to click at some point. When it does, the Sun Belt better look out!